Monday, November 22, 2010

On a Roll

Maybe some of you celebrating Thanksgiving today are as unprepared as I am. Very few hours left and I am flipping through cookbooks and searching cyberspace for the perfect recipe to contribute. This time, I have been given the job of rolls. But which to make? What kind--what shape?

Rolls are not exactly the most exciting or memorable part of Thanksgiving, or any meal. They are that filler. That one extra lump on the plate of white flour puffiness--usually without much interest or substance. At the Thanksgiving table, they are a taste-break from the sweetness of the sweet potatoes, the savory depth of the stuffing, the meatiness of the bird. Unfortunately, rolls are many times an afterthought. Like this time. We've gotta have them, for some reason, but, oh, we can just pop over to the store and pick up a package or two of Hawaiian sweet rolls , cram them in the oven once the turkey is out and resting, to warm themselves a wee bit and maybe even form a nice crisp crust. Then at least it appears they had real purpose. But rolls can be so much more! They are that humble helper on which to spread a little butter and cranberry sauce and an absorbent tool to help wipe clean the plate and not loose any of that glorious gravy. Homemade, they can be a labor of love, and a simultaneously neutral, tasty, and comforting ground to find your taste-buds again.

Well, I am late, and anyone searching today for a Thanksgiving recipe is late too. But I have made an attempt, despite my tardiness, to put a little heart and soul into the forlorn roll. I made these yesterday because I wanted them to turn out, and I have a little tendency to muff things up last minute. To make them special, I ground up some buttery kamut flour. To make double sure they survived the baking attempt, I made two batches.

If you'll notice, the round bundle of rolls in the above photograph are not the finished product of the below uncooked mounds of dough. No, the below baked up nicely enough, but I was not thinking. I pulled them out too soon, kept them in their pan too long after, deflated them, rebaked them, and still they maintain now to be on the underside of truly done. They are the left-hand side backdrop to the rounded bundle of glory. So a word of caution: 1) glass takes a wee bit longer to bake, I forgot about that, and 2) the rolls are not meant to stay in the pan, steaming, after coming out of the oven--remove them immediately, and let them rest and cool off before serving; they are quite delicate.

Thus I am claiming the role of rolls to be something more than just filler. I am claiming for them their rightful glory. Bread! Bread with a capital 'B' and all the substance that glutinous grains can bring. I didn't add anything on top, but seeds of various kinds would certainly be a welcome addition. Mine remain plain. They remain, I hope, thankfully straightforward so as to not claim a higher ranking, but to elevate the roll's lowly status to a position of humble greatness.

After all, Thanksgiving is about reminding ourselves about those simple good things we are indeed thankful for: Family, however wonky. Friends, however far-flung. Home, however dark, damp, or drafty. Life, however chaotic, unproductive, or untidy. Food, however plain and simple, however undercooked or overcooked, however last-minute made. And so, so much more.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Kamut Dinner Rolls (ever so slightly adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible)

The steps for making these dinner rolls seem lengthy, but really, it is just a lot of rising and resting.

Mix the sponge:

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons kamut flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk, scalded and cooled to tepid
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon dry yeast

Whisk until very smooth to incorporate air, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides, cover, and set aside.

Mix the topping:

1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons kamut flour
1/2 unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dry yeast

Combine and sprinkle on top of the sponge. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow it to ferment for 1-4 hours at room temperature (or, ferment for 1 hour and transfer to the fridge for 8-24 hours; if hand-kneading, remove to room temperature 1 hour before mixing the rest of the dough).

Mix the dough:

4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Combine butter with the sponge in a mixer with a dough hook on low speed for about a minute, or until the flour is moistened enough to form a rough dough. Scrape down sides, cover again with plastic and allow the dough to rest 20 minutes.


1 1/8 teaspoons salt

...and knead the dough on medium speed for 7-10 minutes. It will not come away from the bowl until toward the last minute or so of kneading (actually, the kamut flour must act differently than the original recipe's all-purpose, because my dough pulled away immediately, I simply added a few drops of water at the beginning and at the end to ensure a good, sticky, stable consistency); it will be smooth and shiny and stick to your fingers. With an oiled spatula, scrape down bowl. If the dough is not stiff, knead in a little more flour. If it is not at all sticky, sprinkle with a little water and knead it in.

Transfer dough to a buttered bowl/container to hold at least 2 quarts. Note the height at which it would be doubled, mark it if you think you'll forget, and let it rise in a cozy place until it does double, 1 1/2-2 hours.

Gently scrape the dough onto a floured surface and press it, again, gently, into a rectangle. It will be full of air and resilient. Try to maintain as many of the air bubbles as possible. Pull out and fold the dough over to give it 2 business letter turns and set it back in the rising bowl (if you are concerned about the turns and wish some tutelage, watch this video). Oil the surface, cover, and mark where double the height would be. Allow the dough to rise for another 1-2 hours or until it reaches the mark.

When it is ready, cut the dough into 12 even pieces. Roll each piece into a ball by cupping your hand over it against the counter. Do this with vigor--the counter and your hand should pull the wind the dough up under the roll with a kind of centrifugal force and form an indentation. Seal the small indentation that forms in the bottom by pinching it tightly. This will help to make a tight skin on the outside of the roll, giving it an even shape during baking.

Pour the liquid butter into a small bowl. Dip each ball into it and coat all sides. Place pinched side down in the (square pan: 3 rows of 4 rolls each; or circular cake pans of rolls spaced evenly).

Cover the pans with a towel and allow to rise for about 1 1/2 hours, until doubled; the tops will almost reach the top of the pan. When the dough is pressed with a fingertip, the indentation will remain.

One hour before baking: place the oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking sheet on it, along with a pan on the floor of the oven, then preheat to 400 degrees.

Quickly but gently set the pans on the hot baking sheet and toss 1/2 cup of ice cubes into the pan beneath. Immediately shut the door, and bake for 20 minutes or until medium golden brown. If planning to reheat the rolls to serve later, bake them only 15 minutes or until pale golden.*

Remove the rolls from the oven, unmold, and cool them top side up on wire racks until juest warm, about 20 minutes, then pull apart. Enjoy!

*To reheat the rolls, set them on a baking sheet and heat for about 5 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven.

1 comment:

  1. Amanda, I thought you would enjoy this post from a blog I read about her Grandmother's rolls (recipe included):, however late for Thanksgiving :).